Table of Contents
Written by Amethyst Recovery
Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.
An Overview of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a powerful prescription opioid that’s usually reserved for very specific medical situations. For example, fentanyl may be prescribed to someone with breakthrough cancer pain already on around-the-clock opioid treatment. Fentanyl brand names include Subsys and Duragesic. Fentanyl is a schedule II controlled substance in the U.S. Schedule II substances do have currently accepted medical uses, but also have a high likelihood of addiction and dependence.
If someone is dependent on fentanyl, it’s very likely they will require a professional fentanyl detox to safely rid their system of the drug. Fentanyl is believed to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and heroin. It’s currently the most potent prescription opioid available.
Along with being used in medical settings, fentanyl is increasingly produced in illicit lab settings. It’s fairly easy to produce analogs of fentanyl and then sell them on the black market.
Sometimes people know they’re getting fentanyl. At other times it’s in heroin or other pills they buy on the streets, and they don’t realize it. Because of the strength of fentanyl, it often leads to overdoses when people use it. Fentanyl is estimated to be involved with nearly half of all deaths related to opioids.
There are three terms related to fentanyl, and they’re often used interchangeably. These terms are abuse, dependence, and addiction. These terms don’t mean the same thing. Fentanyl abuse means someone is using the drug in any way other than how it’s prescribed. Substance abuse doesn’t mean someone is addicted or dependent on that substance, although abuse often leads to both.
Fentanyl dependence means a person’s brain and body are dependent on the presence of the drug to have a sense of “normalcy.” Drug dependence can occur with prescription opioids even if used exactly as a doctor indicates they should be. If someone is dependent on fentanyl, stopping suddenly or cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Finally, there is the addiction. Addiction is a diagnosable disorder with a certain set of symptoms. Addiction can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe, depending on how many of the symptoms a person displays.
Fentanyl withdrawal occurs as the body attempts to stabilize after it’s no longer exposed to fentanyl. Drug withdrawal can be uncomfortable and in some cases, there can be severe or deadly consequences.
Even if someone is prescribed an opioid medication, their doctor will recommend they gradually taper down their dosage rather than stopping cold turkey. This can help minimize or reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can include:
- Teary eyes
- Aches and cramps
- Joint and muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate and increased breathing rate
- Sleep disturbances
- Dilated pupils
- Severe drug cravings
While the physical symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can be difficult enough, the psychological symptoms are often the most challenging for people. When the brain is exposed to artificially high levels of dopamine, as it is with the use of fentanyl, to readjust without it can be psychologically difficult.
Many times as someone is going through opioid withdrawal, the neurotransmitters in their brain have a hard time naturally creating a sense of pleasure.
Psychological symptoms including anxiety and depression can persist for weeks or longer after someone stops using fentanyl.
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Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline
People often wonder how long fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will last. The short answer is that it can depend. Some of the factors that play a role in how long fentanyl withdrawal lasts include a person’s individual body chemistry, how long they used fentanyl, the ways they used it, and the dosage they were using.
Withdrawal symptoms can begin anywhere from 12 to 30 hours after the last dose of fentanyl is taken. If someone regularly abuses extended-release versions of fentanyl, it can take longer for withdrawal symptoms to appear. The earliest symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include sleep disturbances, aches and pains, and a runny nose.
Most people will experience the peak symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal within around four days after the last dose of the drug is used. For most people, the symptoms of withdrawal will start to subside in about a week although some may persist for longer.
Fentanyl Withdrawal and Overdose
One of the biggest risks of fentanyl withdrawal and detox is that someone will relapse. If a person goes through a period of withdrawal and fentanyl is eliminated from their system, a potential relapse can become much more dangerous.
When someone stops using fentanyl even for a short period of time, their tolerance goes down. When that happens and if they relapse and use the same dose as before, it’s much more likely they will suffer an overdose. That overdose can be fatal.
The fentanyl detox process is one where the drug leaves the system of the user. It’s essential for someone to go through a full fentanyl detox before beginning addiction treatment. The best option with a drug like fentanyl is a medically-managed detoxification program.
During a medically-managed detox from fentanyl, patients can be kept safe and comfortable. This minimizes the risk of complications and also relapse.
Many fentanyl rehab centers include a medically-managed detox as part of their program.
During a medical detox from fentanyl, the staff and medical professionals have an understanding of the patient’s mental and physical health history and their drug use. A medical detox may include monitoring, certain medications to reduce symptoms, and holistic support, such as the provision of nutritional meals.
Opioid Maintenance Medications
Due to the effects of the opioid epidemic, there has been an increased level of attention placed on certain maintenance medications. Opioid maintenance medications include buprenorphine and methadone, among others. The goal of these medicines is to help people stop using other stronger opioids like fentanyl.
Both buprenorphine and methadone are weaker opioids, and they fill the same receptors in the brain as fentanyl, without the more severe effects.
While opioid maintenance medicines have helped some people, the use of these medications can be controversial. There is the feeling that for many people, rather than helping them stop using opioids, these drugs just replace other opioids. Users may remain dependent on opioids for many years when they use a medication-assisted treatment like methadone.
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Fentanyl Detox Centers
A fentanyl detox center is a place where patients can go to receive specialized care and treatment during a difficult time. The safer and more comfortable a person is during detox, the more likely they are to successfully begin an addiction treatment program after they’re finished. To learn more about fentanyl detox and medical detox in general, contact Amethyst Recovery.
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